New antibiotics could prevent hearing loss in people with cystic fibrosis

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RNID and Cystic Fibrosis Trust have teamed up to fund a vital research project to prevent hearing loss caused by a commonly prescribed antibiotic. The £210,000 research project will run for three years.

People with cystic fibrosis (CF) are prone to recurring lung infections. Many of the bacteria that cause these infections are becoming resistant to antibiotic treatment.

A type of antibiotics called ‘aminoglycosides’ such as tobramycin, are very effective against CF lung and other life-limiting infections. They are associated with low rates of antibiotic resistance. However, aminoglycosides can cause hearing loss.

Everyone with CF has a different experience of the condition and so it is difficult to say how many people with CF are affected by hearing loss side effects of aminoglycoside antibiotics. Researchers estimate it may be as high as 50% of adults with the condition. It is something RNID and Cystic Fibrosis Trust are working to stop.

Until I started losing my hearing I was always pretty good about taking my CF medicines, but developing hearing loss put me off taking them for nearly 10 years. It affected my social life too – I used to love nights out and meeting new people, but I lost interest in that altogether as I couldn’t hear what people were saying.

I spent five years teaching myself to lip read, and at my restaurant all the workstations in the kitchen are arranged so we’re opposite each other, which makes lip reading much easier.

Mark Aisthorpe, 30, who experienced hearing loss after being treated with tobramycin for a CF infection when he was 16 years old

The project is funding researchers at Stanford University to develop new aminoglycosides that are less toxic to hearing. By the end of the three years the researchers hope to have at least three new aminoglycosides that can be moved towards clinical testing.

Dr Alan Cheng who is leading the research, said “Aminoglycosides enter and kill the sensory hair cells in the inner ear that are vital for hearing. Our approach is to design and test versions of these medicines that aren’t able to get into hair cells, but retain the ability to kill bacteria”.

Dr Ralph Holme, Director of Research and Insight at RNID, said: “As well as treating cystic fibrosis lung infections, this class of antibiotic is also commonly used to prevent infections in neonatal babies. We’re excited about the potential impact this research could have on hundreds of people to prevent them losing their hearing as a result of aminoglycoside antibiotics.”

“Any reduction in hearing can have a big impact on person’s quality of life. We’re delighted to co-fund this important research with RNID to reduce the hearing loss side effects of taking aminoglycoside antibiotics. These medicines are a vital part of treating the serious lung infections that people with CF develop, but any improvements we can find will also benefit many others with hard to treat infections.”

Dr Lucy Allen, Director of Research at Cystic Fibrosis Trust

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition which causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system. It affects more than 10,800 people in the UK. One in 25 of us carries the faulty gene that causes it, usually without knowing.

Since 1964, we've supported people with cystic fibrosis to live longer, healthier lives -and we won’t stop until everyone can live without limits imposed by CF.

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